T hirteen? Let’s hope so – the 13th season of the Hyundai A-League is about to kick off, and while the build-up has been interrupted by off-field dramas involving the FFA, clubs and the game's congress, there’s nothing like a new season to drag attention back to what really matters – the football. In that regard, the omens are good. High-profile marquees may be in short supply (the wealth of MLS in America and the Chinese Super League has largely put paid to that), but the clubs appear to have been savvy in their recruitment, securing a mixture of good-quality overseas talent, and a fair few Aussies who return home with plenty still in the tank.
Case in point is the reigning champion, Sydney FC. While the history books show defending a title is a tricky business, Graham Arnold’s team seems to have a decent chance of doing just that. Reeling from the loss of Danny Vukovic (to Belgian club, Genk), and Rhyan Grant to injury, the Sky Blues have found what on paper are excellent replacements: ex-Leyton Orient stopper Alex Cisak, and 80-times capped Socceroo Luke Wilkshire.
Throw in Polish international player Adrian Mierzejewski, along with the retention of Milos Ninkovic and Bobo, and Sydney is decent odds to replicate Brisbane Roar’s back-to-back successes in 2010-11 and ’11-12.
Last year’s beaten grand finalists, the Melbourne Victory, have repatriated Socceroo Mark Milligan, former favourite Thomas Deng, and (aer a season with Wellington) Kosta Barbarouses as a replacement for Marco Rojas. With the versatile Rhys Williams and the retention of James Troisi, Victory has a solid base for another title challenge.
Brisbane Roar’s squad has come under fire for being too old, yet a list that contains 230 international caps between them has to be respected. The 37-year-old Massimo Maccarone was still knocking in goals in Italy’s Serie A last season, and could be a decent replacement for Jamie Maclaren.
City fell away last year, and new coach Warren Joyce’s mission is to make them more consistent. They’ve recruited solid experienced pros rather than big names this year – and Sco Jamieson, Eugene Galekovic, Iacopo La Rocca and Stefan Mauk all know how to win in this league.
Perth Glory must find the solution to their greatest conundrum – a leaky defence – but at the time of writing, only Sco Neville and Jacob Poscoliero had been added in that regard. The screening capabilities of ex-Western Sydney Wanderer Andreu may help, however. Goals at the other end shouldn’t be a problem, with Andy Keogh, Diego Castro and Adam Taggart all still part of the mix.
The Western Sydney Wanderers are banking on Oriol Riera providing his share of goals – the Spaniard is the latest in a long line of overseas attacking talents recruited by the Wanderers, many of whom haven’ t really delivered . Elsewhere, experienced Australian signings such as Michael Thwaite, Josh Risdon and Chris Herd mean Tony Popovic’s team should be higher up the table this time around.
Can the same be said for last year’s bottom four? Central Coast Mariners appear to be making the most progress, and have added some interesting foreign talent in Asdrubal, Tom Hiariej and Wout Brama. But it may just be a season too soon for Paul Okon’s fast-improving outfit.
The other three have all had a change of coach – in come Ernie Merrick at Newcastle, the Bosnian Darije Kalezic at Wellington and Germany’s Marco Kurz at Adelaide – the latter pair reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of the A-League. All may take time to make their mark.
In all, a minimum of 23 different nationalities will be on show this coming season, reflecting football's multicultural make-up, unrivalled by any other sport in Australia.
Defending a title is a tricky business, but Graham Arnold’ s team seems to have a decent chance.
Bobo's retention means Sydney FC stands a good chance of replicating the Roar’s back-to-back title successes.